I’m almost (nearly) packed: passport, too many pairs of shoes, three Roman Holiday inspired dresses, two maps and one husband.
Italy, here I come!
I’m deliriously excited. I may pass out.
Preparations have been a serious business: itineraries hashed out, Italian friends interrogated (grazie, Alessandra and Mathias!), Michelin guides scoured, Fellini movies rented.
Once our plans finally came together, celebrations were in order, Italian style: a glass of prosecco and a toast over crostini with fava beans, last season’s winner for favorite spring dish. (We voted early and often: I think I made this recipe a thousand times last May. I couldn’t get enough.)
Fava beans, a Mediterranean staple, have a fresh, creamy quality, nothing at all like the chalky, starchy lima beans of my early memory. (I’d apologize to my mother here, but she never liked those hateful lima beans, either.) When mixed with mint and lemon zest and Pecorino, the fava puree takes on a cheerful shade of celadon green and a nutty, sunshiny-bright flavor that sings springtime.
Sings it in a mezzo-soprano. Singgggs.
The crostini make pretty canapés for cocktails, little bright green bites that leave a hand free for your guests’ gin and tonics. (Or Campari and sodas, if we’re sticking with our theme.) In a larger portion, they’re a satisfying vegetarian main and a healthy source of protein: favas have nearly 10 grams per quarter cup, with a heap of iron and fiber to boot. The hardy legume is so nutritious, in fact, that a large crop kept most of the Sicilian population alive during a rough stretch of drought in the Middle Ages. Sicilians often celebrate St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, with fava beans; prayers to the saint were met with an intercession of much-needed rain. Believers trust that a lucky fava bean in your pocket will ensure that one’s earthly needs are always met. (I prefer to eat mine, but faith is a funny thing.)
The beans do take a little bit of prep, but it’s one of those meditative, calming sorts of kitchen tasks. The favas need to be shucked, then blanched; after the beans cool, you’ll need to pop them out of their waxy outer coating. (And once you’re done with this first step, the dish flies together, I promise.) Summon whatever pastoral imagery you’d like to help you along: pretend you’re shelling beans out on the veranda of your crumbling Tuscan villa. Hum sweetly to yourself. Look wistfully off into the distance.
At the market, look for fava bean pods that are a bright Kermit green, with few dark blemishes. Large, firm pods (up to 9” or so) will generally yield larger beans (and more bang for your shelling buck). If you’d like to make the dish off-season (favas are available from late March to June in these parts), I’ve read that shelled edamame works well as a substitution, though I’ve never tried it myself. (Do let me know if you give that a try.)
Enjoy your taste of spring. I’ll be back here in two weeks with a full gustatory report from Italia and lots of snaps to share. Ciao, darlings!
Fava Bean Crostini with Pecorino and Mint
Adapted from Amy Sherman’s New Flavors for Appetizers: Classic Recipes Redefined
makes 15-20 pieces
- 2 pounds fresh fava beans (in their pods)
- 1 Baguette
- 1/2 C ricotta cheese (whole or part-skim)
- 3/4 C Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- 1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- generous salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
To open, snap off the end of each pod and pull the string down the seam. Shell the beans and discard pods. (You’ll wish you were fava-sized and could curl up in those fuzzy pods, I know. It will pass.)
Heat a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook favas for 3-4 minutes until tender. Drain in a colander over the sink and rinse with cold water to cool.
Remove the waxy casings from the individual beans and discard; the shelled bean will be a lively green color. You’ll want a generous cup of shelled beans; use up to 1 1/4 C.
Add the shelled favas and the remaining ingredients to a food processor. Puree until smooth (scrape down the sides halfway through). The puree will keep for several days, tightly sealed and in the refrigerator.
Slice baguette. (Cutting on the bias will give you a little more surface area for the fava puree.) Spread 2 Tbsp (more or less to your liking) of the puree on to the baguette slices. Bake until the crostini are crisped and the puree is puffed, about 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with additional mint, if desired, and serve immediately. Mangia!